The Fugitive Heart
Inspirational novels can be difficult to review. You can’t exactly give a novel a lower grade simply because you don’t agree with the beliefs of the author. As you might expect from an inspirational novel, the crux of this novel is a spiritual conflict. The hero has rejected God, and the heroine feels compelled to bring him back into the fold. For the most part, this conflict is played out in Kansas and Wyoming after the Civil War, and the characters face some difficult trials. I enjoyed the sincerity of the characters, but found their beliefs overbearing at times.
Young Samantha Martin and Nathan Hamilton (both in their teens) have their future planned. Nathan will become a doctor and marry Samantha. Then, the Civil War disrupts their lives. Nathan and Samantha’s brother, Caleb, leave Samantha in an orphanage and go off to war. During the Battle of Nashville, both Nathan and Caleb are falsely accused of theft and punished harshly. Nathan turns his back on his beliefs, and after the war, he and Caleb become outlaws.
Six years pass, and Samantha becomes a teacher at the orphanage. But then the orphanage closes, and she has nowhere to go. Nathan returns for her. He is obviously a changed man, but he doesn’t tell her what he and Caleb have been doing since the war. Only when he takes her to the small ranch he and Caleb share with several other men does Samantha learn that they are outlaws. Samantha tries to teach Nathan to love God again. Because he is worried for her safety, Nathan takes Samantha on a visit to see her friends. These friends introduce them to a neighbor. Little does Samantha know that this man is a marshal. What will happen to Nathan once he is brought to justice? Most important of all, will he turn from the darkness and embrace a more spiritual life?
Like many other women living on the frontier, Samantha faces her struggles with little but her belief in God and her courage. Sometimes the extent of her faith is hard to accept; she seems a little too perfect. When most women would be angry with Caleb or scared about the future, she feels guilty for having doubts. Also, at times, she is too naive to be believed. When she and Nathan are forced to jump off a train to avoid a sheriff, Samantha believes they jumped off simply to avoid legal issues involving Nathan’s ranch – issues she’s sure she wouldn’t comprehend. She prefers to let the men handle that sort of thing.
Nathan was destined to be a healer, but his experiences embittered him. He gets sarcastic when people talk about their faith. Yet he also turns his bitterness inward because of his guilt. The change from the boy who took care of injured animals to the outlaw who smokes, drinks, and sleeps around was too much of a plunge for me. I might have accepted this more if he had not come from a good family. Still, his guilt over his actions is realistically portrayed. Also, his growth once Samantha comes back into his life is believable. Over time, the reader can see him change because of her influence.
A couple of things made me uncomfortable. Nathan said he stopped believing when he read the great philosophers while growing up – for example, Plato and Kant. Did the author mean to imply that people who read these philosophers are in danger of becoming nonbelievers prone to sin? Maybe I got the wrong impression, but it made me uneasy. Also, at one point, a Christian character accused Samantha of being Nathan’s mistress. That didn’t sound very charitable to me. He should have known her better. The only evidence he had was the word of a slimy outlaw who had sold Nathan out.
While reading this novel, I felt as though the characters were truly a part of history. The battle scenes were realistic, as were the scenes involving their effect on Nathan years later. Yet the circumstances under which Nathan was accused of theft seemed arbitrary. I know war is harsh and justice often gets left in the dust. Yet could soldiers really afford to imprison a medic in the midst of battle without at least investigating his claims of innocence? At that time, they needed all the medics they could get!
Some readers will be grateful for a frontier novel that glorifies faith and family instead of glorifying the life of outlaws. Just be prepared to read about people who bring their strict faith into every facet of their lives, often quoting scripture to make their points. Also, be forewarned that Samantha and Nathan spend some time apart, particularly at the end. Though this wasn’t the type of novel I usually read, I found myself caring about the lives of the characters. I couldn’t wait for Nathan to become a believer again. Also, the message had a uncommon sincerity to it – something many romances lack. Still, if you are not a “believer”, this probably isn’t for you.
|Review Date:||December 17, 1998|
|Book Type:||American Historical Romance | Inspirational Romance|
|Review Tags:||American Civil War | Frontier Romance | Frontier/Western Historical Romance | Reconstruction era | Western romance|